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Only a good likeness is not everything

Only a good likeness is not everything

As you know by now, painting commissioned portraits is an essential part of my daily artistic activity and has been for more than twenty-five years. I like to talk about it over and over again and hope that you can benefit from this.

I want to repeat this week what I consider to be the most important properties for a portrait painter:

  • Good drawing skills and a thorough mastery of painting technique, above all.
  • Good sense of composition.
  • Good sense of colour.
  • Good communication skills.

It is not only about the likeness

It is not only about the likeness


A client principally requires a perfect resemblance. You can paint a lovely portrait, if the likeness is not there then all your efforts are in vain. But beware: as an artist you equally need to ensure that, after the similarity condition is met, you deliver an interesting painting.

Much commissioned work is based on photography. Do that photography yourself. Create a special skill there. (A painted portrait, for example, of a head of state based on photography of a stranger tells me nothing about the quality of the painter.) A good portrait shows something of the creator, something that makes him stand out from all others. Not only by his technique, his brushwork or his use of colour. Also how he brings the model into view and how he uses the light.


In the beginning of your career you do not know exactly what your particular style should look like. It grows with the years. My advice: take time to find that out. It is not about being original but about being authentic! Don´t make a study of what sells good in the market but look at what you want to communicate. Thus introspection. That sounds woolly but I don´t mean that. Don´t go for cheap success, make something that comes from your own philosophy of life. For one person that may be wonderment, for the other rage. For someone seriousness is a starting point, for another optimism can be a source.

  • Get a clear picture of yourself in order to make a good portrait.
  • Be firm but modest.

More on commissioned portraits

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Comment Section

2 thoughts on “Only a good likeness is not everything

By Guillermo Berjón Barrera on 23 October 2016

Me quedo con una frase: “no trates de ser original, sino auténtico”. ¡Espléndido consejo, muchas gracias!

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